Andersen spent only two seasons as the Badgers coach and led them to a Big Ten championship game appearance this fall. At Oregon State he will replace Mike Riley, who left the Beavers last week to take over the coaching job at Nebraska.
The news took more than a few people by surprise, as Andersen was not expected to leave Madison, Wis., any time soon. He had led Wisconsin to a 19-7 record in two seasons with the program, including a 13-3 mark in Big Ten play. Last Saturday Ohio State routed the Badgers 59-0 in the Big Ten title game, and the next day Wisconsin secured a berth opposite Auburn in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. Signals that Andersen would consider leaving for another job were sparse.
Andersen arrived in Madison before the 2013 campaign after four remarkable years at Utah State. His 26-24 record with the Aggies doesn’t do his tenure there justice; the coach took a program that was 3-9 the season before he arrived and turned it into an 11-win contender that won the Western Athletic Conference in ’12.
The cupboard wasn’t exactly bare when Andersen got to Madison, as the Badgers were coming off three consecutive Big Ten titles under predecessor Bret Bielema. But Andersen continued that success, producing a Heisman Trophy finalist in tailback Melvin Gordon, who became the program’s single-season record holder in rushing yards (2,336). Gordon declared for the 2015 NFL draft on Wednesday.
The question surrounding Andersen’s move is simple: Why now? Wisconsin was a perennial Big Ten threat. Oregon State may be the toughest job in the Pac-12.
It’s not easy to recruit top talent to Corvallis, Ore., especially in the shadow of rival Oregon, which has won seven straight Civil Wars and locked up a spot in the first College Football Playoff field. Andersen inherits a program that has won more than seven games just once in the past five seasons. It went 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12) this year and dropped six of its final seven games.
This is the Badgers’ second unlikely coaching departure in the last two years. In 2012 Bielema, who had reached three straight Rose Bowls with Wisconsin, left to take over Arkansas. Bielema later complained the school’s budget for assistant salaries played a factor in his departure. It’s possible Andersen’s exit points to bigger issues behind closed doors, especially considering Wisconsin’s athletic director, Barry Alvarez, told reporters he was caught completely off guard. Paul Chryst, Greg Schiano, Dave Clawson and Justin Fuente are among those being speculated as potential candidates to replace Andersen.
Andersen will have his work cut out for him at Oregon State. Riley didn’t dominate during his 14-year tenure with the Beavers, but his teams were always competitive. Over the coming weeks and months, it will up to Andersen to keep the program trending in the right direction. For now, though, it would seem Andersen has left a Big Ten blue blood for a Pac-12 underdog. The lingering question will be why.